Caught reading Upsidedown
Caught reading Upsidedown
by Zandra Casto
By Diana Kwacz
Everyday after students have fulfilled their duties from teachers, a limited number are lucky enough to participate in A.C.E.S. (After School Program through Community Leaders, Educators, and Students). A.C.E.S. aligns with Weinland Park’s strategies to create interconnected enrichment activities to progress student’s skills. A.C.E.S. consists of five different groups ranging from kindergarten to fifth graders, each with an instructor from the Godman Guild and City Year. A.C.E.S. also opens up its doors to any volunteers that are willing to donate their time once or twice a week to come work with the students.
Throughout A.C.E.S. children get to experience a wide variety of exciting activities including trips to the zoo, visits from COSI, cooking days and club days such as “Techie Club”. During the everyday routine at A.C.E.S. children have scheduled time to work on homework, have a nutritious snack, play outside and complete an enrichment activity. Enrichment activities focus on relevant areas that students work on during regular school hours. Leaders from the Godman Guild plan in advance creative ways to make these topics exciting for the children. City Year participates as support to their Godman Guild partner with the option of planning an itinerary if we want to take on the challenge!
A typical day at an after school program in each of City Year Columbus’ schools will look entirely different from one to the other. At Weinland Park Elementary, we’re fortunate enough to have a vital partnership with the Godman Guild. A community center in close proximity to our school, the Godman Guild, has been serving the central Ohio area since 1898 and has partnered with City Year for about 6 years to create a daily after school program for elementary school students called A.C.E.S., which stands for After School Program through Community Leaders, Educators, and Students. After school at Weinland Park is very structured with a regular schedule of homework help and snack time, followed by lesson plans which are individualized by grade level. City Year specifically works with students 3-5 because these are our “target” grades, or part of the most critical time period for helping students get on track towards high school graduation.
Every Wednesday after school turns into Starfish Corps, which consists of lesson plans and activities created by City Year. Students engage in activities that are centered on civic engagement, environment, peace in the community and health choices.
This week in after school students learned about team building and participated in a number of games that helped ingrain this principle. Within grade levels students worked as a team to accomplish fun tasks and played games that require communication and teamwork (both of which my third graders seem to struggle with regularly). The kids learned lessons in listening to their classmates and working together. We also had a visit from the Columbus Zoo this week and the kids got a chance to learn about and meet different animals- like Maddie the Flamingo, Ruby the Glass Lizard, an opossum, a boa and more. Like the zoo, many visits to after school from outside organizations are funded by grants. The Center for Science and Industry (COSI) visited Weinland Park third graders after school and taught a lesson in aerodynamics. Students created their own paper planes and ran experiments flying them to see what variables would make them fly a further distance. Students played with weights, clips, and different folding techniques to tweak their planes in 12 different trials over the span of 3 weeks. Making hypotheses, tracking data, and drawing conclusions was a great way for them to practice the scientific method. For the majority of students at the school, admission to educational and fun places like the zoo and science museum is something they cannot afford. After school helps bridge this gap when possible by bringing these places to the students for free. Every week after school provides enrichment clubs and activities that the kids would probably not otherwise be exposed to. My role in after school as a City Year corps member is vital in helping create a positive learning environment after school and helping provide resources to students that will enhance their education.
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As part of City Year culture, we recite a pledge together during unity rallies to remind us why we serve and what our purpose is. The City Year pledge ends with what I believe is the most important aspect of our service: “to help build a stronger community.” This is by far the ultimate goal of our service and why we focus on education.
Many of the students we work with lack stability in their personal lives which often interferes with their academic performance. Financial instability as well as a high number of broken family homes are just a two factors that alter the stability and control a child feels in his or her life.
Sean* is a 4th grade student in my class who like many of our students, is extremely intelligent when he chooses to be. More often than not, however, Sean chooses not to pay attention and disrupts his classmates. Last week, he got into a violent fight at school with another boy and when my fellow teammate and corps member spoke to him about it, we saw a side to Sean that we had never seen before. Sean said he had to hit the other boy because he made a disrespectful comment about his deceased father. Sean told us his father was recently murdered and on top of losing a father, his brother went to jail around the same time and Sean had to move from a safe suburb of town to a more risky area, and subsequently lost his sense of community. Clearly these transitions had taken a toll on Sean and his emotional welfare. How can a boy who’s been through so many traumatic events be expected to easily focus in class or control his emotions?
For many students like Sean who lack stable relationships in their life, our role in the schools is so much more significant. My team and I do our best to provide him with a stable relationship that could possibly be the only one he has in his life right now. Our presence greeting him at school breakfast every single morning, assisting him in reading class every day and checking in with him at recess is starting to create a community Sean clings to. Several times a week when I see him in the school hallway he asks if I’m going to be in his class later. His teacher tells me that in moments when he doesn’t have City Year in his classroom he asks when we’ll return. Everyone in City Year could tell you there are multiple examples like Sean which motivate us in the morning when we want to hit snooze or calm our frustrations after a hard day of work. To build community requires tough work and renewed dedication each and every day. Attending two weekend service events to benefit the community and spending an entire day completing physical service projects throughout the city, this week are a perfect example of City Year’s commitment to build community outside of just schools. I have to commend my team and my entire corps for recognizing this commitment to community and practicing it inside and outside of the schools. As they so amazingly exhibited for me this past week (via a surprise birthday celebration in my honor) knowing that miles away from my family and friends in a new city, City Year Columbus is the community I depend on for strength and fellowship. As we continue the year, I hope the rest of our community feels the same way about City Year and that our goal of building a stronger community, nation and world for all of us is accomplished as a result.
*The student’s name has been changed to protect his identity